Not surprisingly, most of the money and attention spent on sports and athletes is directed at men, both at the professional and amateur levels. Professional women’s leagues are relatively young and few women athletes are paid to utilize their skills on a softball diamond or a basketball court. According to a number of studies, however, women are catching up with men in a variety of ways. The infographic below, created by Ohio University’s Online Masters in Athletic Administration program, takes a closer look.
The first professional football league for women was formed 40 years ago, followed in 1978 by a basketball league and the WNBA (basketball) in 1991. Women’s Premier League Rugby got started in 2009 and the following year saw a new Women’s Spring Football League inaugurated. The next year, America’s National Women’s Soccer League was formed. Women’s Professional Fast Pitch has been around for about 20 years.
In 1991, the US women’s soccer team beat Norway in the first ever Women’s World Championships. The first Women’s Football Superbowl took place in Texas in 2000. The National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) became the first professional league to pay women. Female athletes in the United States have made a commanding start.
While women make up 40% of participants in professional sports, they only account for 4% of media coverage. That translates to less than 1% of athletics coverage on major networks, which is devoted to women’s sports. Male athletes at Division I-FBS schools receive 2 ½ times the funding women receive at the same level even though more than ½ the population of NCAA schools is female and 44% of athletes are women. The numbers are wildly disproportionate: females receive just 28% of athletic money, 31% recruitment funding, and 42% of the scholarship money.
In spite of these disparate numbers, women’s sports are becoming more popular with participants and viewers. Every year for a quarter of a century, female athletic participation has increased with 3.26M girls playing sports in 2013 to 2014. More than 40% of college and high school athletes are women.
Sometimes the number of viewers watching Women’s College Softball has been higher than the number of viewers for men’s games, including during the World Series of College Softball. An average of 25.4M Americans watched the women’s FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2015.
Of the 150 million NFL fans, about 45% are female and over one third of viewers are also women. Many women stated that in 2015 a sporting event was their top-rated television show. Sports club managers are sensibly seeking ways to encourage women’s presence in their stadiums and to make them feel more at home.
Even if money for women’s sports is lacking, the money they spend on sports apparel is as highly valued as that of men. Makers of athletics clothing and shoes recognize the importance of this growing market. Two major brands geared television campaigns specifically towards women for the first time. These were Under Armour and Dick’s Sporting Goods. With half of shoppers on the NBA online site coming from the female population and sales of $5B on Nike’s women’s athletic wear in 2014, this group is clearly becoming powerful. Footlocker sees the women’s market as their greatest opportunity. They accounted for $15.1B in sales of active wear between September 2013 and August 2014, an increase of 10%. Sporting good giants are seeking sponsorships with top women athletes in order to attract yet more sales from this sector.
Perhaps the most stunning signal that women’s sports excite a rising number of viewers in the United States comes from the men’s clothing department. Recently, Nike released women’s World Cup Soccer jerseys in men’s sizes so they could celebrate their favorite players, subverting stereotypes of women donning the jerseys of their favorite male sporting heroes.
Virtual sports are also popular, especially video games with their increasingly realistic depictions of soccer and other games. EA Sports is a major video game company. They became the first such firm to include women’s teams in their FIFA 16 game franchise. More research is planned to understand the part women play in all aspects of sports from the stadium to the store. Marketing experts know they must keep female fans happy so they continue to buy tickets to matches. Women are spending money on sports clothing and sports-related paraphernalia, and TV channels rely on viewing among women ages 18 to 49 to keep their ratings high. These factors give women a lot of power off the pitch.
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